When Cash is King, Safety Rules

From smart safes to best practices in ATM location and cash drawer management, savvy c-store retailers work to keep employees and customers safe from would-be thieves.

By Brad Perkins, Contributing Editor

Rumors of cash’s demise have been swirling for years. But if cash were no longer king, the lengths thieves go to get it would also have decreased.

Technological advances plus increasingly bold thieves mean that even with chip-based Europay, Mastercard and Visa, ATMs, mobile apps that sync to ATMs and technologically-advanced cash drawers that link to security cameras or smart safes becoming more prevalent, skimming, fraud and theft are still a risk.

Keeping cash safe is as important as keeping customers and employees safe.

“Our No. 1 priority is taking care of our guests and ensuring we provide a safe environment for our team members,” said Terry Adkinson, chief operating officer for Kent Kwik, which operates 43 convenience stores throughout Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. “We make them truly understand we’re looking out for their safety as well as guest safety.”

Doing so includes taking preventative measures to make sure ATMs and cash drawers are not compromised.

“From the merchant’s perspective, if customers are realizing an ATM is not safe in that store, shoppers will stop going to that store,” said Bruce Renard, executive director of the National ATM Council.

ATM placement is an important part of mitigating risk.

“It’s a balancing act,” Renard said. “You want the machine visible and accessible so people know it’s there, but you also want it visible and accessible by store personnel so they can keep an eye on it. You don’t want to have it next to a window where someone can drive through the window or an outer wall and crash into the machine.”

Crash-and-grabs are the most visible ways to steal money from an ATM. But they are also one of the most easily deterred.

“Probably 20 years ago we had a crash-and-grab where they backed into our store and put chains around our ATM and tried to remove it,” Adkinson said. “But the way we secure our ATMs now—we use two- or three-inch diameter bolts and put four in the bottom of the ATM with massive tie downs into the concrete—if you wrap a chain around it, you’re not going to yank it out. You may get the front panel out, but you’re not going to get the safe.”

Deterred from crash-and-grabs, thieves target fraud and skimming. They’re not the most dangerous to the physical store, but are incredibly damaging to a store’s reputation—and to its customers. And while skimmers used to be shoddy plastic devices that were easily detected, now they can involve tiny pieces hidden in the card reader, even smaller cameras, bluetooth and even Wi-Fi. Therefore, monitoring the ATM becomes even more critical.

“We have a person internally who manages all of our ATMs—money, reconciliation, skimming; they are checked on a weekly basis by an internal person at company,” said Adkinson. “We don’t allow managers to fill ATMs. We have a gentleman who does that for us.”

Skimming has become rare, according to the National ATM Council’s 2017 U.S. Retail ATM Skimming Survey, in which nine of 10 survey participants “reported never having encountered a single skimming device on their ATM routes for years.”

But it still happens. Last month devices were found on ATMs at gas stations in Massachusetts, Florida and Washington. That’s why the National ATM Council publishes an anti-skimming guide that includes monitoring the ATM, watching whether people are lingering too long at the machine or not doing anything that resembles a transaction and having customers cover their hands when entering their PINs.

Monitoring safety and security of the register can be even more important for the business and as a crime deterrent. With so many ways to open the register, from brute force to no-sale transactions and any number of things that could go wrong moving the money, retailers can help avoid losses by setting storage guidelines, using smart safes and tills and being vigilant about monitoring them.

“We only authorize $100 in each register between 12 a.m.-6 a.m. and that’s mostly the time we’d have a robbery,” Adkinson said. “Between 6 a.m.-12 a.m., we allow $150 in each register and we drop any bill greater than $20 (into a safe) on a daily basis.”

Restricting the amount of cash in the drawer, removing large bills into a safe quickly and putting up “less than X dollars in the register” signage around the store can be great deterrents.

“Your risk of loss in a robbery goes down significantly when there’s very little cash in the drawer,” said Brent Chadwick, chief financial officer at Plaid Pantry, who also advocates signage around the store indicating a low cash amount.

At Kent Kwik, the district managers perform weekly cash audits, while at Plaid Pantry with 110 c-stores in the Portland, Ore. area, the task of moving the money to the bank was transferred from the managers to an armored car that picks up the cash directly from the safe each week. They’re the only ones who have access to the safe.

“Just from a general safety and theft standpoint it’s a huge benefit,” Chadwick said.
Plaid Pantry used to have the managers deliver the cash to the bank, which left the company open to a number of issues, so it decided to partner with Brink’s on its Tidel cash management system. The move allowed managers to focus more on the store, while reducing overall risk of theft and loss.

“The alternatives are not pretty,” said Chadwick. “It is definitely a good investment and a good resource to have.”

Making cash management a part of all employee training and staying abreast of cash security advances can help store owners see the importance of policies and technological help at the register and ATM.

“We have attended loss prevention meetings annually and listened to loss prevention best practices,” Adkinson said. “[It] helps us do a better job in procedures and trying to be proactive instead of reactive.”

Best Practices in Preventing Theft
Convenience stores can implement a number high- and/or low-tech security measures to help minimize theft. Here are a few:
• Key Security: The simplest form of cash management, in which drawers can only be opened by a key that is trusted to only the managers and is stored in a safe place.
• Money Management Systems: Keeping small amounts in the register, using a safe to store larger bills and investing in a till cover so that the money is not exposed as it’s moved to the back office.
• Limit No-Sale transactions and use software that can identify when they occur.
• Invest in additional security features like under counter mounting brackets or hasps that move the cash drawer below the counter so they can’t be seen. Hasps can lock the drawers open or closed, taking away the reason for the thief to open the drawer and avoiding destruction as well as theft.
• Intelligent cash drawers keep track of all the money in the drawer, compare it to the transaction log, and can send alerts to management when a discrepancy occurs. This can eliminate training issues or sticky fingers and can be tied to security cameras so managers and owners can review the specific time an issue took place.

Source: APG Cash Drawer, which makes the SmartTill and works with other cash security companies to build theft-deterrent cash management systems.


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